Book Review: God’s Heart for Children

God's Heart for Children Book Review

I thoroughly enjoy reading edited collections of essays – and this new volume from Langham was particularly interesting given that rather than having, say, ten equal and similarly-formatted chapters, the boook was divided into eight sections, each containing a discussion of the ‘Global Critical Issue’, a ‘Biblical and Theological Response’ and a ‘Case Study’. Each chapter in these eight parts has it’s author’s location/nationality tagged – and it is clear that this is an intentionally global book. As the editors note in their preface, “This is not the end, but merely the beginning…” (p. xxi) – this is a good place to start thinking about children and a range of practical theological issues. I apologise at the outset of this review for not correctly punctuating some names – my wordpress skills are minimal!

South African Jan Grobbelaar opens the volume with a straightforward reminder that humans are made in the image of God and thus have inherent dignity. A good starting point for the volume, this is the theological fundamental that underpins the book, and surfaces throughout. Jesy Jaison, writing from an Indian context, has penned a theologically robust AND practically suggestive piece for the Biblical and Theological response here; “The vision of dignity for children I present recognizes five practical dimensions: provision, protection, promotion, participation, and partnership” (p. 21). Pakistani Adnan Azhar Sandhu closes the section with a case study of child labour. If all the child labourers – 218 million – made their own country it would be the fifth largest in the world. The section (containing 2 essays and the case study) closes with discussion questions.

Volume editor and Malaysian Rosalind Tan introduces the next issue: ‘Placed in Families’. Tan’s ‘Children Outside the Door’ chapter is fascinating. Sobering and broad based, it highlights among other things the effect that COVID had on homeless children. Interesting conclusion though, including “even as cultural and sociopolitical trends redefine the family unit, a supportive family whether kinship, foster, or adoptive is essential for holistic childhood development and wellness” (p. 43). Fellow volume editor and Filipino Nativity A. Petallar writes a powerful Biblical and Theological response, dealing with the biblical category of ‘kinsman-redeemer’ and notes that “to belong to a family is a means of grace and an image of the unity of the Triune God” (p. 51). A comprehensive bibliography with various avenues for future reading/research. From Uganda, Faith Kembabazi and Patrick Byekwaso  offer an encouraging case study that demonstrates the possible practical application of the preceding chapter. “We serve children best if we either support them in connecting with their biological family, a near kinship relative, or a foster family who will love, care for, and protect them” (p. 65).

The third major issue is ‘Cared for in Community’, opening with Ethiopian Amberbir Tamire Habtemariam suggesting that ‘It Still Takes a Village to Raise a Child’ and specifically that “The local church can be the new village” (p. 73). Kenyan writer Roseline Olumbe offers a Biblical and Theological response with the offer of  ‘Ubuntu’ as a helpful theological tool, particularly noting the importance of embodied thinking. “Care and compassion are not only African virtues but also biblical concepts” (p. 84) with echoes of James 1:27. Saw Law Eh Htoo closes the volume with a sovering and complex case study from Myanmar on ‘Church and Village as Community’.

Menchit Wong introduces the fourth major issue, ‘Advocated by Society’. “Advocacy as described in the Bible is pleading for or speaking up for and defending the cause of children” (p. 97). Wong – from a Filipino context – ably expounds (the organisation who co-sponsored the book) Viva’s founding vision, connecting it to the past, present and future of evangelical mission. A stirring and challenging chapter. Indian Bradley Thompson offers  ‘Children, Advocacy, and the Kingdom of God’, a readable piece which traces its themes and builds to a crescendo – “Gods call to the people of faith and society in general is to pray, proclaim, and demonstrate kingdom principles and to empower children to be change agents…” (p. 115). The opening quotation (p. 117) of the case study from Costa Rican Gonzalez offers an interesting question: What if even bureaucracy could be suborned to kingdom purposes? “Birth registration by itself is the access pass to fundamental human rights” (p. 118).

The fifth part engages with the theme of ‘Secured in Hope’. “Hope is an intuition, expectation that something good will happen, that the worst will be over, and a new beginning will dawn…” (p. 128). Ecuadorian Maria Alejandra Andrade Vinuezas’ chapter opens up the power of hope and spirituality in real challenge. “Nurturing children’s spirituality is key to engender hope” (p. 143). Armenian-Syrian Shake’ Geotcherian’s biblical/theological response in hope opens with a stunning example of the power of Gods word to calm a child’s heart under shelling (!). “God’s love gives us hope which is incomprehensible for those who have not experienced God’s perfect love” (p. 151). A British and Syrian pairing of Kezia M’Clelland and Subhi Nadhaf close the section with a case study that offers a moving account of a particular form of ministry. They wisely note that “we must be careful, however, not to idealize this work with children in situations of violence and conflict” (p. 161). This chapter does not do that, and is a good balance of report and reflection.

The sixth issue is ‘Affirmed in God’s Church’, with Peruvian-American Enrique Pinedo’s chapter onchildren on the move being both sobering and succinct. South African Shantelle Weber’s ‘Beyond Welcoming to engaging Children for Gods Kingdom’ was in my view one of the more mixed pieces here – some helpful and thoughtful biblical/theological reflection, but also some unformed and slightly woolly stuff. Brazilian Clenir Xavier dos Santos’ case study of children on the move (migrants) is hard to read but offers several practical examples. A useful piece.

The penultimate section considers what it means for children to be included in God’s mission. Congolese (DRC) Sublime Nyundu Mabiala’s ‘Redeeming Children is Integral Mission’ doesn’t do exactly what it promises but offers a fascinating examination of the discipleship of/for children facing persecution as Christians. Costa Rican Harold Segara expands the concept of missio dei and Luther’s priesthood of all believers explicitly to include children. Interesting tracing of language in key commitments out of Lausanne. Nathan Hussaini Chiroma offers a harrowing chapter on the cost of following Christ for some Nigerian children. “Discussion on the persecution of Christian’s must be properly anchored on a solid theological and biblical understanding” (p. 215).

The final section discusses what it means for children to be engaged in Creation Care. Filipino Athena Peralta’s ‘Children and the Global Climate Emergency’ helpfully opens the section. Echoing a common emphasis in this book on the child as missiological actor, this is perhaps one of the most culturally connected chapters. Fellow Filipino Rei Lemuel Crizaldo offers an excellent summary of the biblical and theological issues around creation care. “Simply put, the whole of creation defines the expanse of Christian life and ministry” (p. 242). Excellent linking of eschatological hope to present actions and discipleship. The volume’s final case study comes from Briton Jane Travis and Zambian Mkandawire,  illuminating an interesting program of engagement between children faith and nature. A strong encouragement to integrate stewardship into discipleship even of the young.

The volume closes with two prayers, information about the editors and authors, a special tribute, and indices of subjects and scripture. This is a mixed volume – with a few weaker chapters – but it contains a wealth of theological reflection and thinking about God’s heart for children. As a ‘way in’ to thinking theologically and missiologically about children, this is a gift from the global church to the global church, in line with Langham’s excellent publishing mission. It is a volume I can imagine drawing on if I ever get going on my doctoral work on being made in the image of God, and also one that could be helpful for those thinking seriously about children in mission, children in the worldwide church, and even looking for inspiration for thoughtful childrens discipleship. 4/5

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